March 2, 2018 By Tara Law
Thai dessert shop and grocery store Sugar Club in Elmhurst has closed after being in business nearly 30 years.
Sugar Club, located at 81-18 Broadway, closed on Feb. 15 as the owner faced rising costs and dwindling demand. The owner plans to launch an online shop in April and has his sights on opening a dessert restaurant.
The shop served sweet Thai treats such as ice cream, pastries, bubble tea and sticky rice, as well as savory grab-and-go Thai meals and prepackaged snack food.
Despite the playfulness of its offerings, the store was more than a place where people could grab their favorite junk food— it was a gathering place for the Thai community.
New arrivals could find postings for jobs and housing written in Thai on the store’s bulletin board. The store offered magazines and Thai books. For many Thai people, the store would be the first place they would stop upon arriving in Queens, said owner and Elmhurst resident Chirawat “Jimmy” Withanwattana, 32, who took over the store in 2011.
“They know that we help each other,” said Withanwattana.
The shop was also a place where people could come together in times of need. The store would host donation boxes and fundraisers after fires, family tragedies and natural disasters in Thailand.
Withanwattana moved to the storefront at 81-18 Broadway from a smaller shop next door in 2014, with his eyes on expansion.
As time went on, however, rising rent and labor costs made it too difficult for the shop to stay in business, Withanwattana said. The shop also became less essential to the Thai community as transplants began to rely more on the internet to remain connected to their culture and home community. The store also phased out DVDs and books, which had declined in popularity.
Although the storefront is now closed, a new online shop called sugarclubs.com, will launch in April, said Withanwattana. The site will replace Sugar Club’s grocery store, and will sell Thai junk food such as chips and dried fruit.
The site will also digitize another essential part of Sugar Club— the message board. The Thai community will now be able to post messages directly on the website.
Withanwattana is also searching for a small storefront, where he can open a shop that exclusively sells desserts. Withanwattana said that the store would also host fundraisers and a welcoming meeting place.
“We’ve been the center of the Thai community,” he said.